#AgeOfLiteracy: Three Rules for Literacy Leadership

By Heather Rocco (@heatherrocco)

The Educator Collaborative was delighted to be invited to share posts for the International Literacy Association’s Leaders for Literacy Day. We’ll be posting all day long! And follow #AgeOfLiteracy to read updates from others throughout the day!

In this post, The Educator Collaborative Network Member Heather Rocco shares some tips for how to effectively lead literacy teams.

Though I have served as a literacy supervisor for the last thirteen years, my position has rarely been the same from one year to the next.  I’ve supervised different grade levels, worked in different districts and supported different teachers.  This year my role expanded significantly again this year moving to a K – 12 position.  As the old adage states, though, the more things change the more they stay the same.  Whether working with one grade level or twelve, 12 teachers or 142, I have learned there are a few tenets of literacy leadership that have the biggest impact on teachers and students. As we celebrate the #AgeofLiteracy today, I am reminded of the three most important rules of literacy leadership in which I fiercely believe.  

Rule #1: It is a marathon.

The biggest mistake school leaders is forcing change too quickly.  Time and again, leaders underestimate all the working, processing and learning  it requires to implement new curriculum, technologies, schedules, etc.  Teachers who feel rushed and uncertain about these adjustments feel less confident.  Teachers, then, are defeated, negative and exhausted, leading to the demise of a potentially great change.  

Change isn’t a sprint.  Literacy leaders need to take a marathon approach to leading their educators through change.  Typically, I have a three year timeline when I lead this work. Year one is dedicated to engaging professional development and productive teacher collaborations.  It is a year teachers spend immersed in the learning with only minimal expectations of implementation.  It is a year they get to play and see what works.  I approach the second year with the goal that teachers apply what they learned in year one by using the knowledge, program, etc. with their students.  It is also a year of reflection and failure.  My role is to allow teachers to honestly share and deconstruct what goes well and what does not.  We approach our failures as opportunities for all of us to grow.  By the time we are in the third year of the initiative, I encourage teachers to feel ownership of the initiative, providing them many opportunities to share their learning and  train new teachers.  It is a year of refinement and reflection.  I support teachers as they explore avenues to differentiate the work and meet their students’ needs.       

Rule #2:  Time is your best resource.

Funding is always an issue.  Budgets are tight and materials are limited.  What I have learned as a literacy supervisor, though, is your most valuable resource can be free.  Time.  Make time for teachers to collaborate, plan and learn together.  Cancel department meetings to give teachers time to meet with each other.  Dedicate in-service days to collaborative work. Cover a teacher’s class so he can meet with his colleagues for an hour.  These collaborations can develop and nurture relationships that will develop your other most important resource.  Your teachers.

Rule #3:  People first.

As literacy supervisors, we are often charged to create dynamic curriculum, to find the best texts and to provide transformative professional development.  And, yes, I accept that these components are vital to a successful English language arts program.  However, my primary role is to teach and support people – teachers, students, administrators, and parents.  I cannot treat them all the same.  I need to differentiate my instruction and communication based on their needs.  For example, I may need to work individually with building administrators who have stronger science backgrounds than literacy, tailoring their learning so they feel more confident about the evaluations of teachers.  Additionally, I address parents of kindergartens differently than that to parents of high school seniors, recognizing that what they need to know about literacy varies greatly.  

Perhaps most importantly, I need to design professional development courses that meet the varying readiness levels of teachers.  Just as I do not want them to use a one size fits all approach to their students, I seek to honor teachers’ diverse learning needs and styles, giving them lots of choice and voice in our professional learning offerings and collaboration opportunities.  As my friend and colleague, JoEllen McCarthy, says “Kids are the curriculum.” Well, I believe that “Teachers are the professional development plan.”  As their literacy supervisor, I am (rightfully) beholden to them. I need to show them where we are going and give them the chances to navigate how they want to get there.  

May these rules and your professional network help you as you do the rewarding work of supporting literacy!       

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